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Political Report: On The Front Lines Of The Culture War

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Dec. 18, 2010, at a time of year when many children are eagerly anticipating toy guns, BB guns or even their first real firearms under the tree on Christmas morning, city leaders in Providence, R.I., had an entirely different idea. In an elementary school gymnasium, upset children were coerced into turning over their toy guns.

Hijacking the Christmas season for a pint-sized lesson in civil disarmament was not a new idea, either--this was the seventh annual “Toy Gun Bash” hosted by a pair of city councilmen and Santa hat-clad Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch. Any child who brought a toy gun to be destroyed was rewarded with “a Christmas present that reflects a more peaceful way to play and have fun.”  And in true authoritarian fashion, cribbed from gun destruction rituals worldwide, the toy guns were crushed by a machine called the “Bash-O-Matic.” The Boston Globe took note of dissenters, saying that “some children were not thrilled with the trade” and describing how one unhappy 8-year-old had attempted to hide his favorite toy gun under his pillow. His mother confessed to letting him keep one toy gun, saying, “I mean, he is a boy.”

As ridiculous as the Providence toy gun turn-in may seem, it’s an important reminder that the battle for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is as much a cultural conflict as a legislative one. As NRA members rack up victory after victory in the legislative and political arenas, anti-gun leaders--never content with just trying to demonize actual gun ownership--have set their sights on demonizing anything remotely related to firearms.

The wild lengths of this campaign were startlingly apparent at a grade school in Michael Bloomberg’s fiefdom in early 2010, when a 9-year-old fourth grader on Staten Island brought a 2-inch toy gun belonging to a Lego figurine to school. Once discovered, the child was taken from his class and targeted for suspension. In another bizarre case, a 6-year-old kindergartner in Ionia, Mich., was suspended for pointing his fingers in the shape of a gun, over the protests of his mother who noted, “He’s only 6 and doesn’t understand any of this.”

Of course, toy guns pale in comparison to real guns in the eyes of these self-appointed social engineers. Back in Washington, D.C., Marian Wright Edelman, the longtime anti-gun head of the Children’s Defense Fund, reached a new low in rhetoric, proclaiming in congressional testimony that, “The terrible Taliban terrorist threat to American child and citizen safety is rivaled by the terrible NRA threat which terrorizes our political leaders from protecting our children from the over 280 million guns in circulation.”

Not to be outdone, the Brady Campaign has fashioned itself into a national scold decrying the use of gun imagery and even metaphors. The group denounced the NBA, Nike and Kobe Bryant for an advertisement where the basketball star described his hard play by stating, “I don’t leave anything in the chamber.” Pop music stars have also been a target of the group, as Brady President Paul Helmke wrote a blog post complaining about pop star Lady Gaga’s use of fake guns as props in her music videos and on tour. (I guess even anti-gun activists know better than to complain about Ted Nugent.)

Just as irrational hatred stretches from real guns to toys, pictures and words, the aims of gun-hating social engineers go well beyond young children. In what now seems to be an annual scourge, model students from high schools all over the country face expulsion for inadvertently leaving hunting firearms locked in their cars well away from school buildings. A 16-year-old Montana cheerleader described as an “exemplary student” was immediately suspended during a “lockdown” contraband search conducted with a gun-sniffing dog. Demari DeReu had been on a Thanksgiving hunting trip and realized she had left an unloaded rifle in the trunk of her car. Trying to be cooperative, DeReu told the school authorities about the gun and was immediately suspended when the principal opened her trunk to find the cased rifle with no ammunition present. Only a tremendous outcry from the local community spared DeReu from the expulsion of at least one year called for by state law and local school district policy. (Those state laws are mandated by the federal Gun Free Schools Act; it may well be time for the new Congress to look at some of the unintended consequences of that law.)

The cultural attacks by gun control supporters serve as an important window into the mindset of the disarmament crowd. While these groups often claim they only want to ban certain types of firearms, their attempts to change American culture prove otherwise. If Lego toys and a basketball player’s metaphor can draw their wrath, you can be sure that, ultimately, they will be after every real gun everywhere.

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